Department considers options to shorten ISTEP tests at schools

For the Daily Reporter

The Indiana Department of Education is telling schools to continue plans to begin the ISTEP later this month, adding that any effort to shorten the length of the test could require legislative approval.

The state department of education is challenging claims by Gov. Mike Pence that it wasn’t open about how the test has changed. Department of Education officials said the state board of education was told six months ago the number of questions that would appear on this year’s test — but not the length of time that it would take Hoosier children age 8 to 14 to complete the test.

The length of the test has grown to about 12 hours and in most cases doubled, which Pence said during a news conference Monday shocked and outraged him and parents.

But Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman and deputy superintendent of public instruction Danielle Shockey said Tuesday that neither the governor nor the state board of education should have been surprised, because they were told in August that the test would be longer.

“For the governor to complain that he only recently learned of this, to be honest, it’s either politically malicious or it’s a serious sign of staff incompetence,” Altman said.

The department of education will review a national consultant’s recommendations on how to shorten the test, but officials can’t know what will happen next until they see the recommendations, Altman and Shockey said. They said the department will cooperate with the analysis.

The recommendations are due by Feb. 20, leaving the department of education and CTB/McGraw-Hill days to make changes to the test. Creating a standardized test typically takes 12 to 18 months, Shockey said.

“Given that we’re three weeks out, it seems like it would require a lot of work,” Shockey said.

The issue has left local educators in a state of limbo. They have the test booklets but don’t know what to do with them.

“We don’t have a clue if they’re just taking pieces and parts out; we just don’t know yet,” said Jobie Whitaker, principal of Maxwell Intermediate School.

The governor has tasked Edward Roeber, an independent consultant with degrees in psychology and measurement and evaluation, with finding ways to shorten this year’s ISTEP test.

Pence announced Monday that he was hiring a consultant to find a way to shorten the test after listening to the complaints and concerns from parents across the state about the longer length of ISTEP.

The test, which typically took between five and six hours in previous years, will take Indiana’s 470,000 third- through eighth-graders approximately 12 to 13 hours to complete in its current form.

Roeber, who will be paid up to $22,000 for his work, is expected to complete his assessment of ISTEP and present his report to the department of education.

Pence has said he expects the department and CTB/McGraw-Hill, the company that writes and administers ISTEP, to make the recommended changes.

In the meantime, the department of education is telling schools to move forward with practice lessons, practice tests and anything else they were already planning to prepare for ISTEP.

Students can begin taking the first section of ISTEP two weeks from today.

The state department also plans to move forward with a state board of education meeting later this week to discuss the length of the test, and whether legislative action is needed to change the exam, Altman said.

The events leading to the confusion and tension about this year’s ISTEP test started when state lawmakers decided last spring not to use Common Core academic standards, instead creating a new set of standards just for Indiana.

That meant the state also needed to create a new test that would measure how well students are being prepared for college and their careers, and in May, the department of education learned that Indiana would not be given a transition year to create and start using the new test. The new test had to be in place this spring.

The department of education worked during the summer to create the new test and in August, at the request of the state board of education, presented the proposed number of test questions, Altman and Shockey said.

Staff writer Maribeth Vaughn contributed to this report.

About the consultant

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence announced his selection for a consultant to review and recommend how to shorten ISTEP testing for students.

Who: Edward Roeber, of Michigan, an independent consultant to organizations including the Michigan Assessment Consortium and Assessment Solutions Group

Task: To review and make recommendations to the governor, the Indiana Department of Education, and the Indiana State Board of Education to shorten the 2015 ISTEP test. The work will be done in two phases. Before Feb. 20, Roeber will give an initial analysis and recommendations for spring 2015. From February to December, he will work on the spring 2016 assessment.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology, master’s degree in educational psychology, and doctorate in measurement and evaluation from The University of Michigan.

Cost: The maximum cost for Roeber’s contract is $22,000.